Unemployment Rate for African American Men at Record High

If the election of America’s first African-American president was expected to give blacks an economic boost, it hasn’t emerged yet. Indeed, the percentage of African-American men with a job has dropped to its lowest level since records began in 1972, according to the government’s monthly jobs report released last week.

Even as the economy added a better-than-expected 244,000 jobs, the percentage of black males over 20 who are currently employed dropped slightly to 56.9, the Labor Department’s April report shows. For whites, the equivalent figure is 68.1 percent.

Before this recession, the percentage of black adult men with a job had never dropped below 60 percent, according to Labor Department statistics.

And among blacks, it’s not just men who are suffering. Just 51.5 percent of African-Americans across the board–compared to 59.5 percent of whites–have a job, the numbers show. That’s the lowest level for blacks since 1984. (That group includes 16- to 19-year-olds, who are employed at a far lower rate than their elders.)

These employment rates are calculated differently from the top-line unemployment rate, which includes only those actively looking for work, and inched back up last month to 9 percent.

Heather Boushey, an economist with the liberal Center for American Progress, told The Lookout it’s not just African-Americans who have been hit particularly hard.  It’s also other traditionally struggling groups, such as ex-offenders and those without a college degree.

“Anyone who would be last on an employer’s list to get a job is really in bad shape” in the current downturn, Boushey said.

And employers’ hiring practices may be making the problem worse. As we’ve reported, online job listings telling the unemployed not to apply have proliferated in recent years. The federal government is currently probing whether such listings illegally discriminate against African Americans, who are disproportionately likely to be among the jobless.

Nonetheless, much of the media has focused on the travails of educated white men–still a comparatively flourishing group–during the downturn.